By Lalaine Chu-Benitez
Imagine having a scrumptious salad with produce that you have just harvested from your very own backyard. It’s delicious, healthy and absolutely organic. You didn’t have to buy it. Best of all, you’ve grown it yourself! When it comes to eating, believe me that there is nothing more satisfying than feasting on your very own farm-to-table veggies.
For me, urban farming is so much more than just planting a seed and consuming the fruit that comes as a result. Practiced even in just a small scale, it is quite empowering as it allows us to provide our family food that’s absolutely healthy. Especially considering the GMO food scare, it’s great to have access to organic vegetables that you have grown yourself.
Urban farming in our small backyard in Dubai has also taught us about living sustainably, mindfully, healthily and simply. We save money and appreciate what we eat because we have grown it ourselves. Our diet has changed because we eat more veggies and fruits. We have also become very conscious about reducing any kind of wastage at home, and we learned to re-purpose materials. It’s all connected somehow.
Most importantly, urban farming has allowed me to commune regularly with nature – giving me priceless de-stress time while I work on the earth and care for my plants. It has given me a sense of well-being and positivity. Planting something into the ground and believing that it will grow is an act of optimism, and being able to grow life – that is bound to give anybody some measure of joy.
Ted Talks by ‘guerilla gardener’ Ron Finley on urban farming, as well as Pun Pun Center for Self-Reliance founder Jon Jandai’s on simplifying life, have made such a profound impact on me. Moreover, as a foodie surrounded by foodies, my interest in growing food is like second nature.
So, I started experimenting two years ago and tried to grow some basil. During the last planting season (Dubai winter), we planted some 30 varieties of veggies. Not everything was successful, but we were able to grow our own herbs, collards, various lettuces, greens, different types of tomatoes and peppers, bitter gourd and eggplant, among other things.
I’m still an ‘aspiring’ urban farmer who learns with each season, but it has been a very fulfilling and exciting experience so far.
In winter, our backyard is absolutely green. I look forward to the weekend just to be able to spend hours and hours tending to our little urban farm. Daily, I make sure that plants are watered and checked, because by observing them regularly, you get to understand how they grow and react to the elements. I even touch my plants because (and it might sound crazy) it seems like they get energized with positive vibes. I can’t explain why.
When our plants mature, we enjoy salads and other produce from the garden regularly. Last season, we also started to preserve veggies that we cannot eat immediately. So, we’ve made sun-dried tomatoes and peppers, and let peppers dry to make chili flakes. On the side we’re also sprouting mung beans (monggo) and started planting micro-greens that we use for smoothies.
We also started our own compost bin in the backyard. We have been collecting garden waste (cuttings, leaves, etc.) and food scraps (vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, etc.) at home, including spent coffee grounds from our neighborhood coffee shops. We have also re-purposed large water bottles into plant containers. Add to that, we also collect seeds from fruits and veggies we eat.
Our garden is on hiatus this summer, but we still work on building compost, collecting seeds and preparing for the next season.
It seems an awful lot of things to do but once you’ve incorporated the whole thing into your family’s daily life, it becomes almost automatic.
Start Small, But Try It. The only way to learn it is to get into it. It’s not rocket science and don’t think that you need to have a ‘green thumb.’ There are plenty of instructional videos on Youtube. Observe the basics – i.e. light, water, soil and environment requirements. Start simple with easy-to-grow herbs like basil, or microgreens which provide quick gratification (you can eat your produce after week 1) without the long-term commitment.
Plant as Much as You Can and Don’t Get Frustrated. Best way to succeed is to keep trying and experimenting. It’s always trial and error and not all the seeds you will plant will germinate; not all the seedlings you will replant will grow and survive. I say, the more the merrier. Just plant that seed. There’s something to be learned every step of the way.
Even Small Spaces Work. Just because you don’t have a garden doesn’t mean you can’t plant! Do you have a balcony or a sun-lit window? If your answer is yes, then you can plant. There are groups that discuss balcony gardening or even indoor vertical gardens. Get the info. It’s all out there.
Save Seeds. The fact that each tiny seed contains a plant or even a tree that bears fruits is just miraculous! So the next time you eat veggies or fruits with seeds, don’t throw them away. Dry them up, store in an envelope to keep them safe and dry for planting. If you don’t want to plant, give them to a friend, or send them back home for planting in the Philippines. You will be doing the earth some good.